31 August 2013

Quarks and Coincidences and Conversations

A Quark is not a noise made by a duck with a quacking impediment. Quarks are elementary particles that are one of the fundamental constituents of Matter. They combine with other particles to make up things called hadrons - some of which are protons and neutrons. This is Physics stuff. It is genius type of mathematical and science material that is way beyond my level of understanding.

I am a simpleton in such matters but I am nevertheless fascinated by it.

I got on the Quark train of thought after receiving an email the other day from my good mate Alex. He is a scientist and he lives now in Sydney in Australia. Alex is an old friend and an ex work colleague of mine. He is of Bulgarian birth I think - but he has spent most of his life in Australia.

I don't think that Alex and his family arrived in Australia as a refugee nor did they arrive in the country on an overcrowded and leaky and dangerous boat. I don't think that Alex and his family were intercepted by the Australian Navy and sent to an offshore Immigration processing centre in a country like Nauru - nor were they were kept as a prisoners by Australian Immigration Authorities in atrocious conditions for years and years.

However I will have to check with him on that.

Two genius-type Physicists named Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig founded the Quark. Zweig was Russian born but he grew up in America and Gell-Mann was born and bred in the USA. I have used the term 'founded' because neither of the genius Physicists discovered or made the Quark - they simply posed theories about it's existence. This was back in the early 1960's - which was around the time of my birth. Zweig and Gell-Mann did not work together in their field and it was somewhat of a coincidence that they were looking for the same thing.

It has been a day of coincidences for me - as I am soon to reveal.

It was Gell-Mann who named the Quark. He came across the word in the writings of the great Irish novelist James Joyce. The word was used in Joyce's book 'Finnegans Wake' - which he wrote in 1939. He wrote:

"Three quarks for Muster Mark".

‘Finnegans Wake’ is a dream-like rambling of mad, brilliant and at times quite inexplicable prose. It is a very different piece of work from his much more famous book "Ulysses".

I have read both books and they are excellent.

I like that Gell-Mann chose to call the Quark the Quark. Many scientists and physicians who have discovered big things named them after themselves. It is my opinion that this is a little vain. The Quark could easily have been called the "Gell-Mann" - which I think has far less resonance.

Gell-Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Science in 1969 but it was not for his discovery or naming of the Quark. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on something that is known as the "Eightfold Way" - which from my very un-genius like understanding has something to do with the manner in which other genius scientists are able to classify sub-atomic things. As I have already stated - such matters are way beyond my comprehension. I often repeat myself.

I often repeat myself.

The email that I received from my friend Alex was about Quarks and Black Holes and he sent it to me because he knows that I am interested in such things. The email from Alex was a piece of synchronicity and coincidence that life quite often serves up - for when I was out with friends last night I bumped into Gabriel who is a Swiss Particle Physicist genius who studies Black Holes and something called ‘Dark Matter’.

I have written before about my first encounter with Gabriel in an article I named 'Dark Matter'. 

I separated myself from the friends who I was out with when I bumped into Gabriel, as he is quite shy and introverted. This is I think not uncommon with genius type people but here are of course exceptions. I consider my old friend Alex to be in the genius scientist type category of person but he is not shy or introverted. He is very social and conversant.

I had a quick cup of coffee and a slice of blueberry cheesecake with Gabriel at an outdoor table at a cafe in the Club Street district of Singapore. Whilst we were sipping on our coffees and munching on our cheesecakes I mentioned to Gabriel the Quark email that I had received from my friend Alex. 

Our conversation was briefly interrupted by a drunken intrusion from a whining and miserable Scot I know whose name is Ernie. He staggered up to our table whilst he was on his way to a bar that was up the road from the cafe that Gabriel and I were sitting at and he addressed me in some barely comprehensible Scottish English.

I introduced Ernie to Gabriel and I explained to the Swiss Particle Physicist genius that the drunken Scot Ernie was a gay ex-colleague of mine. Ernie responded with the somewhat slurred comment:

"Ahm noot fookin gay."

"Of course you are Ernie." I responded.

"He is.” I told the bemused looking Swiss Particle Physicist genius. 

I endeavoured to reassure Ernie that there was nothing wrong with being gay and that it was not illegal to be so in Singapore. This is not a falsehood. Being gay is not illegal on the Island however performing homosexual acts are.

This is as true as it is bizarre. 

The sexual preferences of everyone and anyone on the planet are none of anyone else's business and they do not in any way define who they are. I have many gay male and female friends who live all around the world and most of them are in long-standing and very loving and committed relationships. There is much public debate and argument going on at present in my home country on the subject of whether gay couples should or should not be allowed to become legally married.

Of course they should be allowed.

Love is love and harmonic relationships should not be defined by gender or sexual preferences.

Wake up you bigoted fucker politicians.

I only mentioned to Gabriel that the Scottish drunkard was gay because I know that Ernie is homophobic and making such a comment would make him go away. My cunning ploy worked and Ernie staggered and reeled off to his bar leaving Gabriel and I in peace. I have no idea or indeed any interest in whether Ernie is gay or not - his homophobia and Scottish accent simply annoy me.

I told Gabriel about my recent email from my friend Alex and asked whether he thought that the synchronicity and coincidence of me receiving the email and then bumping into him could have anything to do with such things as Space Time continuum or Black Holes or Quarks. The Swiss Particle Physicist genius replied that he didn't know but he thought that they could be.

He told me that anything is possible.

I told Gabriel the Swiss Particle Physicist genius that there was a further coincidence of sorts between bumping into him out-of-the-blue and receiving the email from my friend Alex. I told him that this coincidence was that Alex was also a genius-type scientist but he and his family spent a couple of years living near Switzerland - just over the border in France - and that Alex brother lives in Geneva where he works for the World Wildlife Foundation.

The term 'out-of-the-blue' means unexpectedly - or an event that occurs without any warning. It is an idiom. The earliest citation of the term was from a book titled 'The French Revolution, 1837' - written by the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle - who scribed:

"Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims". 

The fact that Carlyle was a Scottish writer and also seeing the drunken gay Scottish Ernie was another out-of-the-blue and coincidental and synchronistic moment. As with the Alex email and Gabriel encounter it may also be Dark Matter and Black hole and Space Time continuum related.

Or it may not.

Alex and his family moved for a couple of years to a tiny and gorgeous little French village near the medieval town of Annecy. I cannot recall the name of the village but I do know that it was only a little over an hour's drive from Geneva.

I know this because I made the drive to visit Alex there from Geneva.

Alex and his wife Catherine and their three adorable children took a sabbatical just to immerse themselves in French village culture. The children went to the local village school - where only French was spoken - and they are all now fluent in the language. Their mother Catherine was already fluent but Alex tells me that he is barely competent in the language. As well as being a highly social genius scientist, Alex is a most humble individual - so I suspect that he may also actually be fluent in French.

The word ‘fluent’ means ‘to flow’ and the French word for it is ‘courant’.

I thought I would just throw that one in there.

The house in which Alex and his family lived in the little French village that I-can’t-remember-the-name-of was ancient and gorgeous and it was set in the midst of an astonishingly beautiful forest. A little bubbling brook ran behind the rear of the property and I sat in their garden overlooking it for many hours whilst I visited. I sat on the grass terrace listening to the bubbling of the brook and I chatted away to Alex and Catherine and their three children.

I am very fond of all of Alex and Catherine's children but my favorite is their middle child Molly. She is incredibly intelligent and funny and she has a natural gift for languages and she is bubbly and effervescent and she is full of life. Molly has the capacity to be a brilliant Particle Physicist like Gabriel - or indeed an equally brilliant scientist like her father when she grows into adulthood.

Her capacity is boundless and infinite.

Gabriel and I chatted away for an hour or so about a lot of science stuff but we also talked about life in general. We discussed literature and we talked about Climate Change and weather and wars. We also talked about Quarks - and it was from Gabriel that I learned about the Physicists Gell-Mann and Zweig and how the Quark was named.

It was a very pleasant encounter. 

Our conversation and encounter ended because I was tired and I needed to go home to write all of this before I forgot it - and then go to my bed to sleep. Gabriel and I have however committed to get together again soon for more coffee and cheesecake and interesting banter.

It has been a very pleasant and informative evening full of Quarks and coincidences and conversations - and one that I enjoyed very much.

25 August 2013

A Knock on the Door & the Knock on the Head

I received a knock on my door this morning and I was expecting that when I opened it I would see my building Manager Mr. Tan. Access to each floor in my apartment complex is controlled by electronic swipe devices and we tenants are only able to access our own floors. Any visitors must buzz on a button downstairs and there is a camera installed in each of apartments so we can see who is calling. Then we can press a button that is connected to an intercom device and communicate with these buzzers - and we can chose whether we want to let them up the lift. Depending on who they are and what they want - or if we like the look of them.

There are only three apartments on each floor in the complex in which I live and neither of my two neighbors on the floor that I share with them have ever knocked on my door before. Nor have I ever knocked on theirs. The building manager Mr. Tan has access to all floors in the building and he has knocked on my door before.

He has knocked many times in fact.

When I opened my apartment door I was a little surprised to see that the knocker was not Mr. Tan but it was one of the Security guards named Raj. As I have written previously, there are two Raj's who are the security guards for the condominium in which I live. I am not sure which Raj is which. They look very similar and they are both be-turbanned Indian gentlemen.

When I opened the door the one Raj snapped to attention and as is the norm now he gave me an elaborate salute. As I have also previously written - this somewhat insane phenomena is unstoppable. I have begged and implored and pleaded with the Raj's to stop saluting me but they are adamant in their refusal. On this occasion I decided that I would salute the Raj back. We stood at my open apartment doorway opposite each other in fixed and rigid postures of salutes. Neither of us would budge. 

It was a salute off.

After what seemed like an eternity - but in reality was probably only two or three minutes  - I could see droplets of perspiration running down the face of the Raj. I was standing just inside my door where the Air Conditioning was blasting and Raj was in the foyer which was uncooled. Raj's eyes began to flitter and flutter a bit and I could tell that he was wavering. He was confused at what he should do next. 

So was I.

Then I gave up. My arm was hurting and I think that Raj's determination and willpower is stronger than mine. I dropped my salute and sighed and said:

"At ease Raj"

I have discovered that this is only way to cause a cessation of the saluting from both Raj's.

He immediately dropped his salute and I could see the relief in both his body and his face.

"Please come in Raj and I will make you a cup of tea. I was just about to make one myself"

I wasn't actually about to make one myself but it seemed a polite an appropriate gesture and I am very fond of both the Raj's. They are delightful chaps.

"I will not be coming into your most beautifulest of homes Mr. Peter sir" Raj replied.

"I will be needing to be returning to my post and be avoiding the derelictionist of my duties"

"Alright then so to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit Raj?" I enquired.

"I am being here to be informing you Mr. Peter that the most honourabilist Mr. Tan has being going to the hospital for his injuries to his head and his face"

"Mr. Tan is in hospital?"

"He is being going there yesterday and he is being staying there for tomorrow" Raj replied.

Mr. Tan and I had butted heads yesterday at the pool. The head butting was completely accidental and it occurred when the Building Manager had stuck his face very close to mine whilst I was dozing next to the pool. I had taken a swim after work and had snoozed off in a sun chair. One of the Raj's had quite bizarrely thought that I might be dead - I don't really know why - and Mr. Tan had stuck his face right up to mine to check that I was breathing.  His dreadful breath awakened me suddenly - and in my alarm at seeing his beady little eyes only inches from my own it caused me to involuntarily jerk forward and our heads butted violently. Poor Mr. Tan was thrown backwards with quite some force and his spectacles went flying.

The terms snoozing and dozing relate to sleeping. They are quite peculiar words if you think about them. I do think about them because I like words. 

The origins of the word 'snooze' are unknown, but it first appeared in America in the middle part of the nineteenth century. Many American words are made up or they are mis-spelled. Americans have dropped certain vowels from the proper versions of English words. The dropping of the letter 'u' is common. For example they will spell 'colour" as "color". I do not understand why they do this but I think that it is just laziness.

It is also an abomination. 

It is believed that the word "snooze" has some relationship to snoring. Snoring only occurs when one is asleep. I do not know if I am a snorer because I can not hear myself when I sleep. This could only occur if I had an 'out of body' experience.

The word 'doze" has Scandinavian origins and was first recorded in both Swedish and Danish literature in the early seventeenth century. The Swedish word 'dusa' literally means 'to sleep' and the Danish word 'dose' translates "to make dull". At some point in time the English transformed both words to it's current form of 'doze'. They threw in the letter 'z' to replace the 's'. I like the Danish translation 'to make dull' and I believe that it is very applicable to the current day English - and particularly the ones with whom I work. They are very much 'to make dull' and they are mostly very dull indeed.

I had no idea that Mr. Tan's injuries were so bad to cause him to be hospitalized. I last saw him being escorted by the two Raj's back to his office.  I have a small bump on my forehead from the incident but it did not require any consultation with a medical practitioner - let alone hospitalization.

"Which hospital is he in Raj?" I enquired.

"He is being in the Mount Elizabeth hospital in Novena Mr. Peter sir" the Raj replied.

Mount Elizabeth hospital is very close to where I live and I have been there several times before. I have no idea nor in fact any interest why it is named thus. There are no mountains in Singapore. It is as flat as a tack.

I have no idea either where the term as 'flat as a tack" originated. A 'tack' is both a piece of equipment that is used in holding horse saddles together but it is also a flat headed nail. I would think that the term relates somehow to the nail rather than the saddle but I am no expert in such matters.

"Alright thanks Raj, I will wander over there later and visit him"

Raj snapped to attention and was about to salute again when I closed the door on him. I did not intend to be rude but I simply could not stand another salute off.

About an hour later I opened my door and went downstairs and then snuck out the back way of my complex to walk to the Mount Elizabeth hospital. When I opened my door I half expected to see the Raj still standing there and saluting for I forgot to give him the normal 'at ease' command. To my great relief he was not still there. I snuck out the back entrance of my complex to avoid further saluting by the Raj's.

I find it uncomfortable and embarrassing.

So I went to the Mount Elizabeth hospital and enquired at the Reception desk the whereabouts of the injured Mr. Tan. I was given his room number and on the way up to the ward that he was in I bought a bunch of flowers. It was after all my head that butted Mr. Tan's - even though the incident was entirely his fault.

I have always been curious as to why hospital rooms are called 'wards'. This apparently relates back to the Victorian era and during times of conflict. To ward means to protect or fend off - and wards were places of protection for those who had been injured in battles.

The name then stuck.

When I arrived at the ward in which Mr. Tan was bedded I knocked on his door and then I let myself in. Mr. Tan was sitting up in his bed and his head was bandaged. It was swaddled. Next to Mr. Tan's bed sat a petite young woman.

"Hello Mr. Tan" I said.

I handed him the small bouquet of flowers that I bought for him.

"Is this your daughter?" I enquired

"Hello Mr. Peter" he replied.

"No this is my wife"

"Nice one Mr. Tan you sly old dog you" I said.

I walked around and offered my hand to the petite little thing and she giggled and gave me a limp shake. She then gave me a barrage of Hokkien - which is a dialect of Chinese.

"How do you do?" I asked

"My name is Peter"

"She speaks no English Mr. Peter" Mr. Tan interjected.

"Her name is Lillian"

Conversation with Lillian was going to be impossible, for I speak no Hokkien.

Mr. Tan spat out a few sentences in Hokkien to Lillian and she giggled again and then stood up and rushed out of the room.

"Was it something I said Mr. Tan?" I asked as I watched Lillian leave the room.

"No I have told her to go and bring me some chicken rice" Mr. Tan replied.

Chicken rice is the national dish of Singapore. It is a complex combination of chicken - and rice. I eat it occasionally.

"You think I am a dog Mr. Peter?" Mr. Tan then asked of me.

He looked quite hurt and concerned.

"Shit - not at all Mr. Tan" I hastened to explain.

"A sly dog is a term of admiration and I am just admiring the fact that you have such a young and beautiful wife"

Mr. Tan smiled at this and his crooked yellow teeth bared in a big grin and he puffed a little in pride.

"So what is the diagnosis Mr. Tan" I asked.

"I was surprised to hear that you have been hospitalized and I am most concerned'

"I have a concussion Mr. Peter and my head has been hurting since our bumping yesterday"

"Is there any skull fracture or brain damage Mr. Tan?"

I was genuinely concerned for the little fellow. I have had a rocky relationship with the Manager of my building complex but I have grown very fond of him over the last six months. I would not describe him as a good mate and I regard him more as a favored pet. He is somewhat like a little lost poodle that I have adopted. Not a sly one though.

"No Mr. Peter the x-rays of my head have shown no skull breakage or brain leakage"

"I am very relieved to hear that Mr. Tan. When do you think that you will be released then?"

"The doctors will send me home tomorrow Mr. Peter and I will return to my duties on Tuesday"

I think that Mr. Tan might be somewhat of a hypochondriac. This is someone who exaggerates a medical condition.

The term hypochondria is one of those words that has changed in meaning over time. The word is derived from ancient Greek and in it's literal form it actually refers to the soft part of the human torso that is directly below the rib cage. In the latter part of the seventeenth century the condition hypochondria was considered to be an affliction that related to stomach pains and poor digestion. A hundred or so years later English physicians used the term to describe a type of hysteria that was suffered by men. It somehow transformed to the term that we currently use it - which is an imagination that one is more ill than they actually are. Pretty strange huh?

Well I think so.  

"Is there anything I can do to help you Mr. Tan whilst you are recovering?" I asked.

"No everything will be OK thank you Mr. Peter although I am having some trouble with the new cleaner in the condominium so perhaps you could let me know if there is rubbish that needs to be cleared in my absence"

"Would you like me to set him on fire Mr. Tan?" I offered.

Mr. Tan looked panic stricken at this suggestion so I had to reassure him that I would not in fact incinerate his cleaner - and it was again a term not to be taken seriously.

Lillian then returned with Mr. Tan's chicken rice and I wished Mr. Tan a speedy recovery and I bid the both of them farewell.

I then returned to my apartment complex. I returned via the long way around and through the rear exit to avoid the saluting Raj's.

I hope Mr. Tan will be alright.

I am sure that he will be.